Leaders Say Schools Need to Adjust Financial Plans


The good news is that education reform has been high on the agenda for a pair with the power to help do something about it. The bad news is that the duo has, at least in some respects, adopted the "throw more money at the problem" approach.

We’re talking about current U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (he has the power of policy behind him) and that Microsoft guy named Bill Gates (using part of his personal fortune to help improve schools and educational opportunities for young people).

But many in the education world have been stressing that more dollars are not the answer. Economic realities have reinforced that point. Nationally, the Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute combined on a report titled Stretching the School Dollar. They take pride in recent comments from Duncan and Gates.

For the past two years, as Congress dished out more money to education through the stimulus and Edujobs bills, Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, along with the Fordham Institute’s Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli, have been sounding the alarm on the need to improve school productivity and spend school dollars more wisely and efficiently. Recently, two powerful voices lent their support to this effort.

In a speech at AEI last week, Secretary Duncan said that, for the next several years, educators are likely to face a “new normal” of having to do more with less but that this challenge “can, and should, be embraced as an opportunity to make dramatic improvements” to the productivity of the educational system. And on Friday, in a speech before the Council of Chief State School Officers, Gates said school leaders should rethink some basic assumptions that impact budgets, including class sizes and the way teacher pay is structured.
 
In their comments, both of these education superstars referenced the newest AEI-Fordham volume, which touches on many of these same themes. The book explains forcefully how school leaders can, and must, not only survive the current economic storm but also fundamentally restructure their schools to save money and improve efficiency.
 
“The bottom line is that, in the next five years, leaders seeking to make a difference will have to find the dollars they need from existing sources—they can no longer count on fresh infusions of funding to fuel their improvement efforts,” said Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at AEI and co-editor of Stretching the School Dollar. “Our school leaders will need political support in the challenges ahead. By stepping up to speak frankly and offer bold solutions, Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates are making it much easier for state and local leaders to make tough but necessary decisions.”
 
“Instead of tinkering around the edges, we need to fundamentally rethink the way we deliver education, compensate teachers, and organize our schools,” said Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president at the Fordham Institute. “We’re glad to hear these two powerful education leaders talking about these issues. We see great opportunity for change here, and we hope this is the start of a bold new era in education productivity.”